I enjoyed Hope is Strong, an exhibition of politically motivated art at the Millennium gallery in Sheffield but perhaps not as much as I had hoped. There were some interesting things to see, especially Jeremy Deller’s small room memorialising his recreation of the battle of Orgreave, but I was left feeling a little dissatisfied. This was not the fault of the exhibition or the art itself, it was a slightly melancholy feeling that I had missed the boat. I should have been there when it happened. This is art whose purpose is to be an activist, to stir things up, and it has its moment. This was especially true of Jeremy Deller’s poster “Strong and stable my arse”, bold black print on a plain white background, which appeared on the streets, unannounced, at the same time as people realised that this particular political slogan was being well and truly over egged. It was witty and timely, very much of its moment and that was the point. Looking at a single example preserved in a gallery is interesting, but it remains a poor substitute for coming across it in the way that Jeremy Deller intended.
The most moving item in the room documenting the recreation of the battle of Orgreave was a denim jacket with badges from the miner’s strike. These badges were effectively battle honours, worn by those who had been there. They were difficult to get hold of and highly prized by the police as they made infiltrators look convincing. It was a reminder of the solidarity of a community under threat, the pride of a industry facing closures and just how sordid and nasty the whole business was.
I enjoyed sending Jake Thackeray’s gentle activism singing out from the jukebox which had a fine collection of political songs of all kinds to choose from. Most of all I enjoyed Ai Wei Wei’s Han dynasty pot with the Coca Cola logo added to it. That really made me think about how very much China has changed since I travelled there in the 1980s, but there is also something about the way that the logo is weathered into the pot in quite a subtle way, almost as though it had always been there, which reminded me that there is something about the heart of a society which remains the same and endures.